The Ravens of Thri Sahashri is a beautiful co-op card game for two players. It’s about a boy Feth trying to help the girl he loves wake from a coma. Ren is a young girl who lost her entire family to a plague and was sold as a courtesan apprentice, she met the son of a merchant, Feth, and they fell in love. The two escaped their lives to be together with the help of an elder courtesan who was killed as the two escaped. Wracked with guilt, Ren fell into a coma and now you have to take the role of the young lovers as Feth uses his ability to read the hearts of others to reach into her mind and try to wake Ren. Her mind is a wasteland of sad memories where Ren’s song of poetry is being drowned out by the cawing of ravens.
Yes, this game is very Japanese.
The Ravens of Thri Sahashri is very difficult to actually rate, it’s certainly a good experience and a very unique game. I’d recommend it to anyone just to experience it, but this is most definitely a divisive game. There won’t be anyone who plays it who comes out of it not sure how they feel about it, everyone will either love or hate The Ravens of Thri Sahashri.
It’s not a game that’s going to be brought out at every game night, but when you’re in the mood for it it’s an experience like no other. Throwing the word experience around makes it sound like there isn’t much game to The Ravens of Thri Sahashri, but there is. It’s a two player asymmetric co-op card game that’ll see one player trying to play the right cards in order for the other player to pick them up to complete five rows of a poem.
Each turn Feth draws cards from the draw deck. This deck is made up of memory cards and Raven cards. Feth’s objective is to play cards into a shared playing space, the Atman, from which Ren takes cards to complete a poem. All the memory cards have greyed out sectioned to represent faded, erased parts of Ren’s memories and a number. When playing cards into the Atman, Feth can only place cards so faded memory sections overlap. Ren can then draw these cards to place them next to one of several face down cards and uses their number value to make three rows that add up to seven and one that adds to five to make a poem. It’s a nice and slow, calm game with so much promise but it’s not a complicated or complex puzzle.
The spanner in the works is the Ravens. These little bastards hide in the deck and Feth draws them they sit in the row below the spaces Feth draws cards to and they’ll eat any memory Feth doesn’t place into the Atman after each turn.
When you manage to complete Ren’s poem you play the game again with slightly different, more difficult, rules. And when you finish that round you do it a third and final time. While each round gets more difficult and more intense, it also gets more frustrating. A few times we played it felt like we were backed into a corner from a less than brilliant first round and may as well have scrapped it and started again instead.
While you’re playing the only way you can communicate is by which cards Ren takes from the ones Feth is placing, within the game you use this to try and tell Feth which cards he should be playing but as players it’s really cool to be working towards the same objective unable to actually speak. At times it’s frustrating as Ren, you just want to blurt out what cards you need. But when Feth finally clicks and realises what cards Ren needs, you get this great feeling that you’ve both managed to get on each other’s wavelength. It’s not a feeling I’ve had from any other game and it makes you feel like you’ve both really connected.
Physically, the game is great. They’re beautiful cards and the different faded areas give each card a unique texture to the image. It packs down into a tiny box, perfect for taking to a friends, too. But the fact it packs down into such a small box makes it really surprising when you start playing on a table and realise that for such a small game it takes a huge amount of table space.
The Ravens of Thri Sahashri is a beautiful puzzle that with the right person you’ll love. It has so much going for it and that’s what makes it so frustrating when the overly-worded rules seem to continually get in the way or confuse you. It took us three goes to finally understand the rules and in part I think this is down to the rulebook being so different to other Osprey Games rulebooks. Usually Osprey’s rules are well explained and well laid out, unfortunately The Ravens of Thri Sahashri’s rules are too wordy and crammed tightly together. When it’s good the two of you are placing and taking cards with knowing looks, finding a rhythm to the card placement and never saying a word. Sadly though it sometimes can feel like just guesswork with a lot of obtuse and overlapping rules piling up against you.
When you find the right partner to play with, you’ll keep coming back for more. In the box there are three numbered envelopes to add a legacy element to the game. As you successfully finish more games you’ll open envelopes and add harder rules. The chance to open one of these really pushes the “one more game” aspect of quick card games.
The Ravens of Thri Sahashri is by no means a game for everyone. Some people will be put off by the concept, some people will be put off by not being able to talk and some will be put off by the well of rules that seems to get deeper the more you play. But those who do enjoy it will love it. The feeling of clicking with someone and solving a puzzle together without using words is unique and a real gem hidden in this game. Try it, just make sure that you try it with the right person.